When a wildfire raged across the outskirts of Austin, Texas, and destroyed 67 residences in 2011, the community needed to rebuild—fast. Among the firms on hand to answer the call was Solid Green Systems, LLC, and once funding and grants were secured, it helped complete the first of the area’s new homes in just 60 days. It did so using its patented framing system made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and light-gauge steel, which is gaining more attention each day for its affordability, ease of use, and sustainability.
EPS foam is an energy-efficient building material, and when combined with light-gauge metal framing, it provides the necessary structural strength for exterior walls and roofs. Solid Building Systems manufactures its product cheaply for contractors in need of a quick, eco-friendly structural skeleton. “From a builder’s perspective, it’s a lot like getting a truss package,” Solid Green Systems founder and president David Carolan says. “You send us the plans and order the system so it hits the jobsite just after the foundation is complete, then you unbundle it and get to work.”
The system allows builders to construct a home approximately 25 percent faster by reducing the work it takes to prepare walls. “It’s close to a LEGO assembly process,” Carolan says.
The product might not be popular for custom-home construction, but its still a boon for developers caught in a time crunch, including those building after natural disasters and others working in booming residential markets.
As another example, Carolan points to four multiunit apartment buildings his firm helped construct on the Eagle Ford Formation of oil and shale deposits in Texas. “It’s no-man’s land down there with little in the form of housing, but oil companies are doing a lot of work, increasing demand for homes,” he says. Transporting the materials to the remote site was challenging, but the 10-unit buildings put up there were still move-in ready in less than 75 days. The real estate developer hopes to turn them over for sale when they’re no longer needed by oil-field workers.
Solid Green Systems’ product provides superior insulation while reducing air infiltration, and its energy efficiency is fully quantifiable. According to Carolan, with its six-, nine-, and 12-inch-thick panels boasting R values of 24 to 50, the framing system can envelope a home that requires 50 percent less energy to operate, depending on the usage patterns of the homeowner. And when combined with alternative energy sources, the product quickly nears net-zero potential.
The system is also competitive with wood framing and traditional insulation, both aesthetically and in terms of cost. “We saw the convergence of Americans’ desire to have things that [still] look nice with decreasing family income and increasing energy costs,” Carolan says. “We thought people would prefer a home like ours if the cost was comparable to a traditional home.”
In 2013, Carolan has focused on expanding Solid Green Systems to add smart systems that can get the company’s homes to net-zero energy use. “You’re getting such a [high] R-value from the exterior envelope, you don’t have to add a lot of wind or solar energy sources or smart HVAC management to get to net-zero,” he says. “We’re currently working with a Texas solar provider to find an optimal blend of our technologies.”